The unexpected change at the top of the Oklahoma Sooners’ football program in late 2021 altered the direction of the program – a new head coach with different ideas, different schemes and different expectations. Not everyone was on board with changing course. A total of 29 scholarship players have left OU’s football program via transfer since the end of the 2021 regular season, some of whom certainly received a nudge out the door.
The group of departed players includes 14 offensive players and 15 from the other side of the ball. Surveying who landed where among the transfers using 247Sports transfer portal data can probably tell us a lot about the state of the roster head coach Brent Venables inherited, as well as giving some insights into where the program is heading.
Of the 14 offensive players who have entered the transfer portal from OU in the last two cycles, four of them have yet to announce their new destinations. Seven of the other 10 landed at Power Five programs.
It shouldn’t come as much of a shock that around this time last year, other power programs wanted to raid the offensive personnel assembled by Lincoln Riley at OU. In fact, Riley did some of that raiding himself, luring coveted 2021 recruits Caleb Williams and Mario Williams to USC with him.
Meanwhile, quarterback Spencer Rattler and tight end Austin Stogner transferred to South Carolina and played the 2022 season there. Wideout Jadon Haselwood led Arkansas in catches last year before declaring for the draft at the end of the season.
The latest departures include QB Nick Evers for Wisconsin and WR Theo Wease for Missouri.
We can probably arrive at two important conclusions about the state of OU’s offense based on the transfer activity.
First, the personnel losses sustained prior to the 2022 were significant. This may seem obvious, but it’s worth reiterating. Look at QB alone. Caleb Williams proved to be the most impactful transfer in college football last year by winning the Heisman Trophy and establishing himself as a top contender to go number one overall in 2024 NFL Draft. Another QB who departed started 13 games for an SEC team that made a bowl game.
Second, most of the transfer damage was done last year. Whereas the post-2021 exodus meant an unanticipated raft of contributors set sail for other programs, the latest round of departures consist of offensive players who haven’t done much on the field. Case in point: Wease (19 receptions, 378 yards, four touchdowns) represents the biggest loss to the portal in this cycle. Two receivers who exceeded that level of production – in an offense that ran 15% fewer plays – dipped out the year before in Williams and Haselwood.
Fifteen defensive players on scholarship have transferred out of Norman in the last two years. A total of three landed at Power Five programs. One, cornerback Latrell McCutchin, followed the previous coaching staff and played sparingly in ‘22 for USC’s beleaguered defense. Safety Patrick Fields left for Stanford as a graduate transfer and finished seventh on the team in tackles last year. Edge defender Clayton Smith, a lauded recruit in the 2021 class, took his talents to Arizona State after failing to make an impression during two seasons with the Sooners.
If you want to make the case that David Ugwoegbu and Jamal Morris transferred within the Power Five by going to Houston, that’s your prerogative.
It’s worth noting that three other defensive players on scholarship retired from football in the last two years: Joseph Wete, Brynden Walker and Jeremiah Criddell. Additionally, of the departed players, Venables recruited just two of them (Kevonte Henry and Alton Barber).
Can someone explain what OU’s previous coaching staff was doing on this side of the ball?
The transfer destinations of the outgoing players suggest Riley and his assistants were recruiting at the level of a Group of Five program on defense. And not a particularly strong one at that, with players heading to the likes of Texas State, New Mexico and Abilene Christian.
Yet, the recruiting rankings show the players who transferred out were sought-after prospects coming out of high school: Ten of them qualified as consensus blue-chip recruits. Take a look at Smith’s list of scholarship offers, for example. Or Bryson Washington’s offers.
Plenty of ballyhooed recruits fail to pan out for any number of reasons, but that seems like an extraordinarily high washout rate. Perhaps the recruiting services overrated all of them, giving the public a false impression about the quality of OU’s defensive classes. But if they were all overhyped, why did the previous coaching staff offer them scholarships?
All in all, the last group of coaches at OU apparently did a terrible job of evaluating prep recruits and/or developing them into quality contributors on defense once they got to campus. (Take note, USC.) On that side of the ball, Venables and Co. are climbing out of a hole that is even deeper than those of us who aren’t at practice every day realized.